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'Modular' Illustration

Hi all,

A fair bit of the freelance work I do is providing illustrated assets for animation. These often take the form of character illustrations that are broken down into parts/limbs that can then be manipulated during the animation process. Over the years, I have been building up an illustrator file or two full of different hands, faces, limbs etc..

When producing static illustrations, I have found that building an image from my bank of pre-drawn parts instead of starting from scratch speeds up my workflow massively. Does anyone else do this? It only lends itself to certain styles of drawing (2D vector shapes in my case).

Is there an ethical/legal issue when doing this (charging two different clients to use the same element in each of their designs, where does a client's ownership of the work start/end within an image etc...)?

One benefit to me other than workflow speed, is that it helps to maintain a consistent visual style (and quality control in some ways).

I can think of a number of high profile artists who do this in their work (usually with a distinctive character style), and who work commercially (Shepard Fairey, Flying Fortress, KAWS, Dalek).

I'd love to hear everyone's thoughts on this.




Well-Known Member
I think this would be commonplace as you say, and I would do the same. Whatever you produce, you have copyright of, of course.

I think it would only become a problem if you were doing a specific/stylised face or figure that your client would presume was unique
to them and then they may ask for the rights to that 'style' so that you wouldn't use it again elsewhere.
Yeah, it's only really applicable to generic characters not specific to a brand. It's a fab trick for generating visually consist content.

The impact on workflow is remarkable, the trick is to break each design down to a point where the elements aren't too distinctive, so as to still allow you lots of variety/control over your image (i.e. a varied palette).


Staff member
I do a lot of my character work in exactly the same way as I do a lot for animation too.

It's not new but it's kind of exploded a lot recently due to things like explainer vid's in After Effects.
As you know they're put together this way for ease of animation to be used with the puppet pin tool and plug-ins like Duik and RubberHose.

I've just been working on one right now as the client wanted something they could tweak at their end and also be future proof for animated explainers which made it perfect to use.

Only danger that I've found is that due to the style being very simple and follow certain rules, they can often have a similar look to other people who use the same method.
...Especially when animated as the same tools are used to animate them.

I also do a lot of isometric work for animation and again this follows a set of rules that can make one person's work very similar to another's.

I don't see any ethical problems though as long as you give them different characters/looks and don't sell the same work twice.
I've built LOADS of characters over the years and I'll often re-use components like eyes or hands for different things and I know others do.
Vectors are perfect for doing this as they're not joined to each other.
Why re-draw some feet in the same or similar way if you already have a pair that you can swap out the colour on?

You wouldn't take a cake back to the shop because they's used the same cake tin to make someone else cake would you? ;)

I just realised that I used the word "cake" three times in one sentence.
I'm quite proud of myself. :D

Just saying' like.
I think the individual components that I am working with are stylistically individual enough to hold their own with regards to looking unique. Something I didn't mention earlier is that I am using a lot of these assets/parts in conjunction with the brush tools and some of the envelope distortions etc.. that allow the pre-made part to be warped/set out in a slightly different shape or direction each time - giving a bit more variety.

As far as cake-cake goes, I find that the cake and cake all at cake. CAAAAKE!


Staff member
It's pretty normal in 3D work, it's called kitbashing, you have 'stock' parts that are added together to form a larger model.... think of it like 'weapons' on a spaceship or the exterior 'sensor arrays' that sort of thing.

You've also got standard assets like furniture you can add into interior renderings or trees/benches/cars etc for exterior renderings when doing architectural work.


Well-Known Member
So long as the clients don't realise I can't see an issue with it. It's not like you're re-using whole characters or backgrounds, and as Scotty says why re-draw exactly the same object in the exact same style?

And I demand a new cake tin be manufactured from scratch for every cake I purchase.